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What’s Trending?

Mark SeeleyIn most cases “What’s Trending” is something related to the most popular Youtube video or Facebook post or article. Interesting trends but I never really feel like I am missing out for not clicking, following, or liking. (Today the top trend on Youtube is How to be an Octopus. Really???)

The climatologist here at the University of Minnesota is Dr. Mark Seeley. His specialty is historic climate data and has written a book called the Minnesota Weather Almanac. Fascinating information!

Dr. Seeley recorded a lecture, Understanding Earth’s Climate and How it is Changing,  for the Renewable Energy course I teach here at the University of Minnesota. His focus again is on climate and weather but with an emphasis on weather trends. He is a good teacher, knowing that climate science discussions can get rather boring and technical. Instead, he looks to engage people with real data.

In his presentation he uses real measured and documented changes to weather in MN and the Upper Midwest to illustrate what is happening with the climate in this region. As he shows, we are witnessing some very significant changes in temperatures, humidity (dew point), and characteristics of our precipitation. He leaves no doubt that the climate in this region is changing using observational data.

However, I find not all my students find his presentation interesting as he does present lots of “data points” (e.g. record temperatures, record precipitation events, locations of events, number of broken records per year, etc. ) and this can be dry. As a teacher, I have to find multiple ways to present the information to help all students engage in a topic.

Graphs and charts are another option for some students.

I just saw these graphs and charts showing global climate change indicators (trends in temperature, sea level, Greenland melting, ocean temperature, etc) from Accuweather.  It is the same kind of climate trend information as Dr. Seeley presents in his lecture,  but on a global scale.

Here is a quick example of two ways to present data. NOAA’s state of the climate May 2016 headline reads “Global record warmth for 13th consecutive month.” The text is as follows:

“The May temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.57°F above the 20th century average of 58.6°F. This was the highest for May in the 1880–2016 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.04°F. May 2016 tied with June 2015 and August 2015 as the 12th highest monthly temperature departure among all months (1,637) on record. Overall, 13 of the 15 highest monthly temperature departures in the record have all occurred since February 2015, with February 1998 and January 2007 among the 15 highest monthly temperature departures.”

Good information but, hard to digest.

This temperature spiral animation presents very similar data (temperature trend) for audiences that don’t like so many numbers. (Yes, these graphs still need some explaining. For this graph, monthly values are deviation from the mean of values from 1850 to 1900. “Zero” is not a point in the center, but a circle.)

Bottom line?  I wish what was “Trending” on Youtube and Facebook was more about science or things that have real impact on our world, . . . like climate trends. I also wish there were more people using cool visuals to present complex data – maybe that is the next trend?

Always Considering Climate — David

David Schmidt MS. PE is a researcher and educator in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota and regional project coordinator for the project Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate,  a national project of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center and funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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